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General Sherman Incident
European nations and the United States were eager to open up new trade in Asia, and began establishing colonies in China and southeast Asia. Japan was also opened up to trade after Commodore Matthew Perry sailed into Uraga Harbor near Edo (modern Tokyo) on July 8, 1853, and under the threat of force Japan signed the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854. As early as 1840 discussions of opening up Korea were made, yet in 1844 a draft by the United States Congress was shelved due to lack of interest.
The first contact between the US and Korea was not in any way hostile however, and in 1853 the USS South America , an American gunboat, visited Pusan for 10 days and had amiable contact with local Korean officials there. Several Americans who were shipwrecked on Korea in 1855 and 1865, and were also treated well and sent to China for repatriation. The Chosun court which ruled Korea, was well aware of the colonization of China as well as the Opium Wars there, still followed a strict policy of isolationism however.
Determined to open up Korea to trade, the British trading firm, Meadows and Co., based in Tientsin (present day Tianjin), China, sent the General Sherman, an 187-ton side-wheel "tinclad" river gunboat into Korean waters in an attempt to meet with Korean officials to begin negotiations for a trade treaty. The crew consisted of a Captain Page, its Chief Mate Wilson, and 13 Chinese and 3 Malay sailors. Also onboard was the ship's owner, W.B. Preston, a British trader, and Robert Jermain Thomas, a Protestant missionary acting as an interpreter. They left Chefoo (present day Yantai), China on August 6, 1866 with a cargo of tin, glass, cotton, and other goods for trade, and on August 16 or August 18 entered the Taedong River on Korea's west coast and sailed towards Pyongyang. The depth of the Taedong River changed frequently due to rains and the tides, but the ship was able to navigate it and stopped at the Keupsa Gate, lying at the border between Pyungan and Whanghae provinces.
Local officials then met the crew and were able to communicate well enough to learn the ship was interested in trade. The Koreans refused all trade offers but agreed to provide the crew with some food and provisions. The ship was then told to wait while higher level government officials could be consulted. However the ship then departed again and went further up river, until the ship became stranded near Yangjak island near Pyongyang. The governor of Pyongyang then sent his deputy, Lee Hyon-ik, with food and told the ship that it was supposed to stay at the Keupsa Gate and then to wait again while the Korean ruler, King Gojong was consulted. The king gave the order that the ship was to leave immediately or all the crew would be killed.
There are several descrepencies as to what happened next, but one eyewitness noted that as troops were sent towards the ship, hostile actions then followed. The ship abducted Lee who was attempting to pursue a small boat with 6 crewmembers attempting to reach shore. After not releasing Lee, the Koreans began to open fire, but were unable to cause any damage. The ship then fired its cannons onto the spectators, hitting several and forcing the troops to retreat where they were ineffectual. Fighting contunied for the next four days, with a Korean 'turtle boat' dispatched, but caused no damage. The Koreans then tied several boats together filled with wood, sulphur, and saltpeter. The first two boats failed to inflict any damage, but the third boat set the ship afire and the crew jumped into the water where they were all hacked to death. The incident was one reason why the US returned in 1871 and resulted in military action, killing about 350 Koreans, in what is called the 1871 US Korea Campaign, or Shinmiyangyo. Five years later Korea signed a trade treaty with Japan, and in 1882 signed a treaty with America, ending several centuries of isolationism.
- The Hermit Kingdom And the General Sherman Incident
- USS General Sherman Incident
- Sinking of the General Sherman A US Marine Merchant Ship
- The General Sherman Incident of 1866 and Rev. Thomas' Martyrdom
- Some Comments on "The General Sherman Incident of 1866 and Rev. Thomas' Martyrdom."
- USS General Sherman (1864-1865, "Tinclad" # 60)
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